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Full text of "My Country And My People"

296      MY COUNTRY AND MY PEOPLE

subtly the houses change the face of our towns and cities. A
roof is not just a roof to shelter us from sun and rain, but
something that affects our conception of a home, A door is
not just an opening to get inside, but should be the "open
sesame" that leads us into the mysteries of people's domestic
lives. After all, it makes some difference whether we knock at
a drab-coloured house-door or at a vermilion-painted gate
with golden hobs on it.

The problem is how to make the bricks and mortar alive
and speak the language of beauty. How can we inform it with
a spirit and make it say something to us, as European cathedrals
are informed with a spirit and speak a silent language of the
greatest beauty and sublimity to us? Let us see how the best
of Chinese architecture tried to solve this problem.

Chinese architecture seems to have developed along a line
different from that of the West. Its main tendency is to seek
harmony with nature. In many cases it has succeeded in so
doing. It has succeeded because it took its inspiration from
the sprig of plum blossoms—translated first into the moving,
living lines of calligraphy and secondarily into the lines and
forms of architecture. It has supplemented this by the constant
use of symbolic motives. And it has, through the prevalent
superstition of geomancy, introduced the element of pantheism,
which compels regard for the surrounding landscape. Its
essential spirit is the spirit of peace and contentment, with its
best product in the private home and garden. Its spirit does
not, like the Gothic spires, aspire to heaven, but broods over
the earth and is contented with its lot. While Gothic cathedrals
suggest the spirit of sublimity, Chinese temples and palaces
suggest the spirit of serenity.

Unbelievable as it seems, the influence of calligraphy comes
in even in Chinese architecture. This influence is seen in the
bold use of skeleton structures, like pillars and roofs, in the
hatred of straight, dead lines, notably in the evolution of the
sagging roof, and in the general sense of form and proportion
and grace and severity of temples and palaces.

The problem of revealing or concealing skeleton structures
is exactly similar to the problem of "touch" in painting. Just
as in Chinese painting the outlining strokes, instead of serving